Heroka ("Without-Horns")

by Richard L. Dieterle

The Héroka are a race of lilliputian spirits who have special control over the magical powers of the hunt.1 They can be mischievous. When a hunter becomes lost, he shouts so that the reply of his comrades can help guide him back. However, the Heroka often reply with shouts of their own, leading him farther astray. They are said to be Wągową́ke, "Men who Change Form."2 Their chief is one and the same as the spirit Redhorn, and either he or his eldest son goes by the name Hérokaga.3 Among other things, their chief is the spirit of the arrow, as the name "redhorn" can also refer to an arrow made of red cedar.4 The pictographic symbol of the Heroka is the bow and arrow [inset].5 Hence their name, Mąmąnį, "Bow Walkers," a name which is also a homonym: inasmuch as also means "earth," Mąmąnį can mean, "Earth Walkers"; and treated as a reduplicated emphatic, Mą-mąnį, it would mean, "Walkers par excellance."6 This brings to mind the Ioway god of the hunt, the dwarf Maya-wadáhe, "About the World Man."7 When a Heroka fires his arrow, it never misses its mark.8 Once the Heroka blessed the avatar of Morning Star with such an arrow, which he used to kill his first deer.9 In order to kill an enemy a Heroka need only draw his bowstring back and forth while making the Heroka breathings, Ahahe ahahe, and whoever he points at will die instantly.10 A holy young man once used the Heroka breathings against a powerful warlock of the Medicine Rite. This neutralized his powers, both offensive and defensive. When the warlock threw magical claws and striped feathers at him, weapons that had always been lethal in the past, he simply caught them. Then he uttered the Heroka breathings again, and killed the man by merely shooting an arrow into the middle of the fire.11 Once a man blessed by the Heroka used the Heroka breathings to cause an oak tree to fall upon an enemy warparty, killing all of them.12 The Heroka are also able to stand upon water and can even stand in mid-air.13 They are unique among the spirits in being able to marry their own nieces (hicųžą́k).14 There exists a similar race of diminutive spirits that live nearby known as the "Little Children Spirits." The younger son of Redhorn presides over them as their chief.15

The chief of the Heroka was originally known as "One Horn," but he sacrificed his horn to help save humanity from the invincible man-eating spirits created by Herešgúnina. When he removed his red horn and touched the ocean with it, the waters burst into flame as if fed by oil. That is why he and his tribe were known ever after as Heroka, "Without Horns."16 Not only was his horn red, but his entire body was of that color. He was thus known by the name "Redman." Once he was beheaded by his brother-in-law who had a steel body inlaid with flint. He roasted the head in the fire for years while Redman's body roamed aimlessly up and down Red Hill in Necedah. Finally, he was rescued by his kinsmen who disposed of his tormentor.17

Heroka Dance

This is a dance to honor the Heroka spirits and employs the symbolism of the bow and arrow extensively. Sam Blowsnake said that his father was a leader of the dance, and that one of the unusual features of the feast was that boiling meat was fished out of the kettle using a stick with four branches (to symbolize the deer antlers ?).18

Heroka Songs

These songs were song with percussion supplied by tapping arrows against bows.

"Slow Song"

Who can miss anything,
With the one the Creator made for me? Hįha!

"Dance Song"

My weapon is holy,
Who can cross my path?19

Hocąk-English Interlinear Texts

Given the importance of the Heroka, they have become the objects of human devotion. Below is an account of the feast of a society a people who have been blessed by these spirits.

The Society of Those who have been Blessed by the Heroka.

This society gives a feast whenever they wish and they are free to invite anyone. A group of Society members sponsor the feast, which is held in a long lodge. Every participant brings his bow and arrows and is responsible for supplying a deer. Each member paints his bow and arrows in the particular color with which the Heroka have blessed him. The bows are stuck in the ground in a row with the arrows behind them. They make these rows between the first two fireplaces. The leader of the Society paints his body the same color as his arrows and has a headdress with a single horn surmounted on it. Instead of using gourds for percussion instruments, they fashion strings of deer hooves which they rattle during songs and dances. The members have been blessed by the Heroka with certain songs which they sing at various times during the ceremony.

The ceremony, which precedes the feast, begins with a dance. The leader of the dance carries a flute from which he plays a song both before and after the dance. One of the members takes his bow in hand and the rest follow behind him carrying their arrows. The followers whoop while they pat their mouths with their hands. Only the men perform this dance, there being only a few dances in which women can participate at all, and those are restricted to post-menopausal women.

After the dancing, they begin the feast. They eat with forked sticks that have been whittled down at one end. When the feast is concluded, they take their plates in hand and dance out of the lodge.20

Commentary on the Feast. "bow and arrows" — the bow and arrows is the very essence of the Heroka, as we see (above) in their emblem.

"a single horn" — inasmuch as Herokaga was originally known as "One Horn" it is appropriate for the leader to have a single horn on his head. His body is the same color as his arrows because he is symbolically an arrow himself. We learn from one waiką that the arrow is a "horn," and when made of sacred cedar, it is a red horn. The spirit Redhorn is chief of the Heroka. Most arrows were just wood with sharpened tips, but others have a Turtle claw head, or one of flint or obsidian. This is symbolized in the single horn worn by the leader. It is the counterpart of the Deer's antler weapon.

"strings of deer hooves" — this reflects the prowess in hunting deer with which the Heroka often bless people. This is not the gourd music of vegetarians, but the music of carnivores. Deer hooves are also cervid weapons that are at once fleet as well as deadly. Thus, they are like the arrow.

"post-menopausal women" — women past their climacteric are said to be "the same as men." Menstruation is thought to weaken the spiritual power of weapons.

"forked sticks that have been whittled down at one end" — the forked stick at first evokes the image of the cervid antler, but the whittling reveals it (also) to be an image of the bow (the fork) and arrow (the straight sharpened stick that emanates from the arch of wood). Indeed, the bow and arrow is a food utensil, an implement by means of which one feeds oneself. It can also be thought of simultaneously as an antler since it attaches itself to deer meat, is forked, and is the counterpart to the deer's weapon.

Links: Redhorn, Little Children Spirits, The Redhorn Panel of Picture Cave. An American Star Map, Flint, Spirits, Great Black Hawk, The Forked Man, Wolf & Dog Spirits, Deer Spirits, Beavers, Iron Spirits, Rock Spirits, Morning Star, Herešgúnina, Redman, Otters, Wildcats (Bobcats), Lice.

Stories: featuring the Heroka as characters: The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, The Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Little Human Head, Morning Star and His Friend, The Claw Shooter, Redhorn's Sons, The Origins of the Milky Way; featuring lilliputian people: The Chief of the Heroka, Morning Star and His Friend, Iron Staff and His Companions, The Red Man.

Themes: lilliputian people with great hunting skills: The Chief of the Heroka, Little Brother Snares the Sun, The Red Man.

Genealogy: The Chief of the Heroka (+ Forked Men).


1 Paul Radin, The Winnebago Tribe (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990 [1923]) 393.

2 W. C. McKern, Winnebago Notebook (Milwaukee: Milwaukee Public Museum, 1927) 64.

3 Paul Radin, "Redhorn's Sons," Winnebago Notebooks, Freeman #3860 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1908-1913) Winnebago IV, #7a.

4 Paul Radin, "The Squirrel," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #22: 1 - 85. Hocąk syllabary text (by Sam Blowsnake?) with an interlinear translation by Oliver LaMère.

5 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 200-201.

6 McKern, Winnebago Notebook, 64.

7 Alanson Skinner, "Traditions of the Iowa Indians," The Journal of American Folklore, 38, #150 (October-December, 1925): 425-506 [441-446].

8 Paul Radin, "Chief of the Heroka," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #33: 65.

9 Paul Radin, "The Man's Head," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #51.

10 Radin, "Chief of the Heroka," 49; Susman records the breathing as ahé. Amelia Susman, Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1939) Book 10: 79. Informant: Sam Blowsnake. McKern has a ha’ai. McKern, Winnebago Notebook, 65.

11 Paul Radin, The Road of Life and Death: A Ritual Drama of the American Indians. Bollingen Series V (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973 [1945]) 156.

12 McKern, Winnebago Notebook, 65.

13 Radin, "Chief of the Heroka," 43-48.

14 Radin, "Chief of the Heroka," 63.

15 Radin, "Chief of the Heroka," 65-66.

16 Paul Radin, "A Wakjonkaga Myth," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) Notebook #37: 55-57.

17 Paul Radin, "The Red Man," Winnebago Notebooks (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society) #6: 1-72.

18 Susman, "Herók'a," Notebooks, Book 10: 79. Informant: Sam Blowsnake.

19 Susman, "Herók'a," Notebooks, Book 10: 79.

20 Radin, The Winnebago Tribe, 295. Informant: a member of the Bear Clan.